yellowstone

Don’t Have Quite Enough Miles for a Free Flight – Check out These Options

There is nothing worse than working for months to earn points, only to realize you don’t have enough for the flight you want. Fortunately, there are some lesser-known deals for redeeming your points on a free flight, even if you only have a few thousand miles.

For starters, the terms “miles” and “points” are completely interchangeable. The only difference would be with earning “miles” on some airlines that reward you based on the “miles” flown. Almost all airlines now reward you based on the amount of money spent on your ticket as well as your class of service. For the intent of spending your points/miles, the term used doesn’t matter.

American

If you don’t have 12,500 American miles for a domestic one-way flight, not to fear. American Airlines offers short-haul one-way flight deals for 7,500 miles. These short-haul flights must be under 500 actual miles and must be non-stop. This option will be great if you are flying to or from an American Airlines hub; Los Angeles, Phoenix, Philadelphia, NYC, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Raleigh-Durham, or Miami.

Use this mileage calculator to measure the distance between two airports. If you are flying Los Angeles to Sacramento or Dallas to Oklahoma City, it will cost you as little as 7,500 miles one-way. (since those cities are less than 500 actual miles apart)

American also offers reduced mileage awards for select credit card holders. You can save up to 3,750 miles one-way or 7,500 miles round-trip. This savings is not based on flight distance but rather your destination and flight date. American offers reduced mileage awards to select cities during specific months.

You could fly from the any American Airlines served airport in the lower 48 to Key West, FL in March for as little as 17,500 miles round-trip. Compare that to 25,000 miles at the standard rate. Also, if you hold the Citi AA Platinum card, for example, you’ll receive 10% of your redeemed miles back as an award. That puts your true cost at 15,750 miles used. Nice deal for a round-trip to the Keys! (FYI: all American and United Airlines award flights incur a $75 fee if booked within 21 days of departure)

Delta

Delta is a moving target since they don’t post an award chart. That means we don’t know what a flight “should” be, therefore it is hard to define a “discounted” Delta award flight. Considering a standard, if we can use the term, Delta award flight is 12,500 domestic one-way, we will assume anything cheaper is a ‘deal’.

You can find short-haul Delta flights for 5,000-7,000 miles one-way. Again, there is no standard so you just have to hunt around for a 5,000 mile award flight.

 

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5,000 Delta miles for a one-way from Phoenix to Victoria, British Columbia

 

I found a 5,000 mile award flight from Phoenix to Victoria, BC, that is super cheap. Oddly, a flight from Phoenix to Portland will run you 7,000 Delta miles one-way. Portland is hundreds of miles closer, so I am not sure what logic Delta is using. (I just answered my question) Needless to say, there are some good flight options if you only have 5,000 Delta miles and you are flexible on your destination. (also, be sure to book 21 + days in advance or the miles need for your flight will increase)

Back in August, Alyssa and I flew round-trip from Phoenix to Cody, WY for only 10,000 points (per person). Cody is one hour from Yellowstone and the cash price of each ticket would have been $394 a piece. That was a GREAT use for 10,000 Delta miles. (over 3 cents per point!)

 

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Some amazing wildlife we observed in Yellowstone

United

United Airlines offers short-haul discounted award flights, similar to American Airlines. They do, however, differ in two ways from American’s. With United your starting and ending airport must be 700 miles or less in distance, it doesn’t matter total distance traveled. Additionally, you will need 10k United miles one-way, compared to 7,500 miles on American.

Where United shines is that you don’t have to fly a non-stop, you just need to end up at an airport that is less than 700 miles from your starting airport.

Example: You are flying from San Diego to El Paso, TX. Those two cities are 635 miles apart, that means you fall under the 700 mile rule. Now, United does not fly between San Diego and El Paso which means you will have a layover. Having a layover means you will certainly fly over 700 miles.

Even though from San Diego to El Paso will take you further than 700 air miles on United, it will still only cost you 10,000 miles rather than the standard 12,500. So not a huge savings but better than nothing if you can make it work. American Airlines requires that you fly non-stop which limits your use of the short-haul deals.

 

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San Diego to El Paso with two layovers, 1,974 miles flown in total, still only 10k United miles

 

Southwest and JetBlue

These two, Southwest and JetBlue, both have dynamic award pricing. That means the points needed for an award flight is directly related to the cash price. The “cents per point” can vary slightly between each airline, but generally they fall into the 1.3 – 1.8 cents per point range. That means a $90 flight will cost about 5,000 award miles on Southwest. That yields you a 1.78 cents per point rate. A flight for $180 will cost roughly 10,000 points, it is easy to scale.

If you only have few thousand Southwest or JetBlue flights, you’ll need to look for cheap cash ticket first. Once you find a cheap cash ticket, that means the points required for an award flight will also be “cheap”. I like the Southwest Map Tool which let’s you search for destinations based on cash or points needed, a super way to find flight deals. If you have only 4,000 Southwest points, put in a 4,000 point “cap” and toggle between dates to see where those points can take you.